Capitol Updates

CAPITOL UPDATE – April 13, 2020

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Commissioner & NDE Staff Answer Your Questions
NSEA Facebook Live Event TONIGHT, Wed., May 13

NSEA President Jenni Benson and NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell host a Facebook Live conversation about the Nebraska Department of Education’s Launch Nebraska program, school safety, Special Education & more with Commissioner of Education Dr. Matt Blomstedt, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Cory Epler and School Improvement Officer Dr. Shirley Vargas.

WHEN:          Wednesday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. CDT

WHERE:        https://www.facebook.com/events/254332988956819/

Help Our Public Schools Recover from COVID-19
NEA Tele-Town Hall Thursday, May 16

Can you join our call on Thursday evening to learn what steps we can take to stop cuts to public education? Join Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Jahana Hayes, and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García for a national tele-town hall about the work we need to do together to repair the economic damage done by the coronavirus.

WHEN:          Thursday, May 14 at 6 p.m. CDT

WHERE:        https://www.mobilize.us/nea/event/272459/

We’ll discuss what Congress needs to do to stabilize education funding, build bridges to opportunity for students and communities, and support the safety, health and well-being of students and educators both now and when we school buildings re-open. You will learn what you can do to ensure Congress supports our students, parents, and educators so that our communities and local economies will thrive.

Federal Education Stabilization Fund Provides Relief

The just-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides the funding and flexibility to allow the State of Nebraska to respond to the COVID-19 emergency in K-12 schools. This federal act includes an Education Stabilization Fund, which will provide $13.5 billion in K-12 formula grants to be shared by all states.

These funds may only be used for coronavirus-response activities, such as accommodating long-term school building closures, purchasing educational technology for online student learning, and additional activities authorized by federal laws.

Nebraska will receive $65.1 million, and the amount is based on Nebraska’s share of ESEA Title I-A funds. The Nebraska Department of Education will utilize 10 percent of the funds for statewide programs. The remaining 90 percent will be distributed to local school districts based on their share (approximately 83 percent) of 2019/20 Title I-A funds.

In order to receive funds from the CARES Act: (1) states must maintain support for elementary and secondary education in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 equal to their average support for the preceding three years; and (2) any school district that receives funds from the education stabilization fund must continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any closures related to coronavirus.

The CARES Act provides a series of waivers for existing federal law, thereby providing additional flexibility for schools during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • The U.S. Secretary of Education may waive state assessment and accountability provisions of ESEA;
  • Each state may receive a waiver from identifying new schools for targeted improvement, and from including certain data points on their state school report cards; and,
  • Local districts may request waivers to carry over more than 15 percent of their Title I allotment beyond the current fiscal year, and increased flexibility on the use of Title IV-A funds, including lifting the limit that no more than 15 percent of Title IV-A funds can be used to purchase technology infrastructure.

In addition, Nebraska will receive a share of the $3 billion Governor’s Education Relief Fund, to provide discretionary emergency support grants to K-12 schools, colleges and universities and early education providers. Nebraska will receive $16.4 million from this fund.

Summer Work Duties May Impact Your Retirement

The Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems (NPERS) recently posted an update to their COVID-19 Guidance memo in response to related retirement questions. The guidance pertains primarily to those NPERS’ plan members who have or are planning to retire this spring. The reason for the new guidance is because some school districts have added additional duty/service requirements that could move terminations of service to a later date. You may find the updated NPERS’ guidance memo by clicking here.

A member retiring in the spring of 2020 should not provide additional duties/services in the immediate months following their termination if they do not want a disruption of their monthly benefit. Nebraska law provides that a school plan member, in both NPERS and the Omaha School Employees Retirement System (OSERS), must incur a 180-day ‘bona fide’ break in service following their termination of employment for retirement. If service, both paid or unpaid, is provided during this period, then a retiree may forfeit and/or have to repay the retirement benefit received.

Because of the COVID-19 disruptions, such additional summer duties could include: (1) attending workshops/seminars, training events, or meetings whether conducted in-person or via an electronic medium, (2) participating in graduation ceremonies as part of your work duties, (3) completing work projects, duties, or assignments, including filing reports on behalf of the school district, and/or (4) engaging in any other similar activity for, or on behalf of, a school district. Here is an example of how a member could be impacted:

A teacher was contracted to work a standard school year of 185 days with the last day of work in May 2020. In May, teachers were encouraged to participate in remote classroom training during the month of June. If the teacher participates in this training (paid or unpaid), they will not be deemed terminated for retirement purposes and cannot have an effective date of retirement earlier than July 1. The non-contributing data submitted to NPERS should reflect this June service. Any hours, compensation, and contributions tied to this service must be reported to NPERS.

Although the guidance pertains only to NPERS covered school districts, the OSERS related law is similar with respect to Omaha Public School employees and would apply. For all school retirees, there is exception for substitute teaching provided on intermittent basis during the 180-day break in service, but the duties/services mentioned herein would not be considered substitute teaching.